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Italian consortium set to win giant Chile telescope contract

SANTIAGO An Italian consortium, including construction company Astaldi Spa, is close to securing a contract to build the world's largest telescope in the Chilean desert, project owner the European Southern Observatory (ESO) said on Thursday.The ESO said its finance committee had agreed to enter into final discussions with the consortium, which was the winning bidder to design, manufacture, transport and build the main dome and structure for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).The consortium includes major Italian builder Cimolai and subcontractor the EIE Group, as well as Astaldi.The ESO said in a statement that it hoped to sign the contract by May but did not give further details. It has said previously that building the E-ELT would cost around $1.2 billion (1.1 billion euros) at 2012 prices. The E-ELT will have a primary mirror 43 yards (39 meters) in diameter, which under current plans would make it by far the biggest telescope in operation worldwide when it begins observations in the mid-2020s.Chile's clear desert skies have made it a prime location for stargazers and a new generation of giant telescopes at various stages of planning and construction. These include the Giant Magellan Telescope, which should briefly be the world's largest in the early 2020s before being overtaken by the E-ELT. The E-ELT's goals include observations of the atmosphere around rocky exoplanets, which may yield signs of extraterrestrial life. The massive telescope should also be able to look back at the earliest moments after the Big Bang and help answer questions related to the expansion of the universe. (Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Tom Brown)

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Showdown in Europe over privacy has U.S. firms ducking for cover

FRANKFURT The free flow of data across the Atlantic, the lifeblood of modern business dealings, faces an uncertain future, despite a belated, high-level deal between European and U.S. officials this week.Restive regulators in Europe are gearing up to enforce tough privacy laws and further court challenges await, activists say.The breakdown of the main framework for providing legal cover for cross-border data transfers has companies large and small racing to find workable alternatives. These range from stricter data-handling policies to new technologies or paying to lease datcenters based in Europe.Companies, facing renewed threats by privacy regulators, find themselves on legal thin ice with many of the existing procedures for managing cross-border data flows, experts say.Google, Facebook and other big Internet services which transfer mountains of data globally are likely to be the first targets in any regulatory crackdown, they said.Hailed as a "Privacy Shield" by European Union and U.S. negotiators who reached the new cross-border data sharing agreement, the deal faces a labyrinthine approval process before the new rules have any chance of coming into force. "Once it becomes available, businesses will want to be cautious about signing up to Privacy Shield given the potential legal challenges that special interest groups have already suggested they will be considering," cautioned Marc Dautlich, a partner with Pinsent Masons in London. TOUGH ON PRIVACYCross-border data transfers are used in many industries for sharing employee information, when consumer data is shared to complete credit card, travel or e-commerce transactions, or to target advertising based on customer preferences. Since 2000, up to 4,500 U.S. companies had come to count on a simple set of rules, dubbed Safe Harbour, allowing them to self-certify they complied with privacy principles for personal data transfers from Europe to the United States. Many other firms, especially fast-growing start-ups, did nothing to comply. In October, the European Court of Justice threw out Safe Harbour. In a landmark decision, it ruled the mechanism provided inadequate protections under European privacy laws against the sorts of spying by U.S. intelligence agencies revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013. Independent-minded national privacy regulators say they need to know more details about the so-called "Privacy Shield" but many openly doubt the agreement can bridge the gulf between the two continents' privacy practices. "Transfers to the U.S. cannot take place on the basis of the invalidated Safe Harbour decision. EU data protection authorities will therefore deal with related cases and complaints on a case-by-case basis," Europe's national privacy regulators said in a joint statement on Wednesday.The data commission for Schleswig-Holstein, Germany's most northern state, said it was prepared to take action on national data protection rules if citizens file complaints. The regulator warned in October that firms found in violation of German data protection rules could face fines up to 300,000 euros ($335,000). Across the region, multi-million euro fines could be imposed on offenders and commercial transfers of personal data prohibited, privacy experts say. SEARCHING FOR OPTIONS An alternative form of legal compliance offered by the EU are "standard contact clauses", or "model contracts", which require companies to spell out exactly what data is being transferred to what U.S. companies and the measures to be taken to ensure compliance with European privacy law.Some national data authorities offer what is known as "binding corporate rules" (BCRs), which companies mostly use for cross-border employee data transfers inside their organizations. But BCRs can take up to 12-18 months to be formalized, while model contracts can take days or weeks.However, many regulators and privacy experts say that the same high court ruling that struck down Safe Harbour may also render model contracts and BCRs invalid, making them only a temporary safe haven for meeting European rules.Using technology to keep data within Europe's borders is a longer term, if pricier solution. Leasing datacenters based in Europe rather than relying on centralized U.S. servers has started to take off over the past year or two.That's an approach huge cloud-based software companies Microsoft and Amazon.com and specialist datacenter providers have begun offering to customers to meet a patchwork of data residency requirements in Europe. U.S. file-sharing company Syncplicity has introduced software that keeps sensitive corporate data created in Europe within the region, offering new ways to store data in the cloud locally. ($1 = 0.8932 euros) (Editing by Keith Weir)

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Short-legged Oregon arachnid gets 'behemoth' name

PORTLAND, Ore. Researchers have bestowed a grandiose scientific name on a tiny, spider-like cousin of the daddy longlegs, officially dubbing the newly discovered denizen of remote Oregon forests the Cryptomaster behemoth.The diminutive, short-legged arachnid made its published debut late last month in the peer-reviewed scientific journal ZooKeys, where San Diego State University biologists who made the discovery first described it.Like the daddy longlegs, which is commonly but mistakenly referred to as a spider, the Cryptomaster behemoth actually belongs to an order of arachnids called Opiliones, or harvestmen. Their single, fused body region most distinguishes them from true spiders, which have two main body parts. The newly identified species was found to inhabit forested mountains and coastal areas of southwestern Oregon, in habitat near its closest relative, another short-legged harvestmen species with an equally outsized name - Cryptomaster leviathan.Both species are rarely seen, often living under woody debris, but at 4 millimeters wide they are much larger than most of the other 4,000 species identified within their suborder, according to the ZooKeys paper. That additional girth prompted a research team led by biologist James Starrett to dub their recent discovery a "new monster." Starrett, who could not be reached on Wednesday, previously discovered several new trapdoor spider species in California, according to San Diego State University's website. Photos of the Cryptomaster behemoth show an eight-legged, amber-colored creature with striations on its back and pincer-like extensions near its mouth. (Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)

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Sleep tight: genome secrets could help beat the bedbug's bite

WASHINGTON They emerge from their hiding places at night, driven to slake their thirst for human blood. Vampires? No. Bedbugs!These tiny insects have staged a global resurgence in the past two decades after being nearly eradicated in many regions, but scientists on Tuesday unveiled a complete genetic map of the bedbug that could guide efforts to foil the resilient parasite."This is an enormous new tool for researchers interested in controlling this pest," said George Amato, director of the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York."Bed bugs are now very widespread in most major cities around the world, and they have increasingly become resistant to insecticides, making them harder to control," American Museum of Natural History entomologist Louis Sorkin said. The scientists identified genes responsible for their insecticide resistance, genes involved in mitigating the traumatic effects of their brand of copulation and anti-coagulant genes useful for an insect that makes blood its exclusive source of nutrients and water.These genetic traits may present vulnerabilities that could be exploited with future insecticides. The genome also harbors numerous genes that originated in bacteria, including one that helps bedbugs metabolize vitamin B. This indicates antibiotics that target bacteria beneficial to bedbugs could be used to control the insects.During mating, male bedbugs stab a V-shaped area of a female's abdomen with their sickle-shaped genitalia. Females possess genes that control a protein that makes that part of their anatomy stronger and better able to withstand this rough sex. Adult bed bugs measure roughly a quarter inch (5 mm) and are reddish-brown. Their bites are not known to transmit disease but some people have very strong allergic reactions, Weill Cornell Medicine geneticist Christopher Mason said."Bed bugs will hide in a variety of places throughout a home. Commonly, they will be on the seams of couches and beds or hidden within the frames of furniture. They have been found in electrical sockets, in drawers or where floors and walls meet," University of Cincinnati entomologist Joshua Benoit added. Bedbugs, found on every continent except Antarctica, have been biting people for thousands of years. Widespread insecticide use in homes after World War Two eliminated them from many regions but bedbugs rebounded by developing pesticide resistance, thriving in heated homes and hitching rides in luggage in international travel. The research was published in the journal Nature Communications. (Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Dutch police train eagles to snatch enemy drones

AMSTERDAM Dutch police puzzling over how to remove drones that pose a public safety threat are testing a way to get the job done in one fell swoop - with trained eagles."It's a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem," spokesman Dennis Janus of the country's national police said.The idea arose because amateur use of drones has boomed and police have begun to worry about unlicensed drones flying into off-limit spaces around airports or above public events such as politician's appearances.Possible solutions the Dutch police have studied include shooting nets at the offending drones, remotely hacking them to seize their controls - or taking them out with birds of prey."People sometimes think it's a hoax, but it's proving very effective so far," Janus said.Showing off the technique in a video released by police, a four-propeller drone hovers in the middle of a warehouse, colored lights flashing. Released by her keeper, a white-tailed eagle glides straight toward the drone, clutches it easily in her talons - clack! - and drags it to the ground.Sjoerd Hoogendoorn of "Guard from Above", the company working with police to develop the concept, said the birds must be trained to recognize the drones as prey.They are rewarded with a piece of meat after each successful foray. Their scaly talons are strong and tough enough to seize most consumer-grade drones without injury from the blades, he said."These birds are used to meeting resistance from animals they hunt in the wild, and they don't seem to have much trouble with the drones," he said.The potential impact on the animals' welfare is subject of testing by an external scientific research institute. "The real problem we have is that they destroy a lot of drones," Hoogendoorn said. "It's a major cost of testing."Another unknown is how the birds will fare in a crowd situation, he said.A decision by police on whether to move ahead with using the eagles is expected by the end of the year. (Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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